this issue: november 1, 1999
Books / Digital Culture:
Selected Past Articles:
Frank McCourt's new book, 'Tis, isn't as good as its predecesor, Angela's Ashes, but it is still a moving and impressive work. McCourt's wit and memories remain amusing and touching. This needs to be stated because there has been quite the backlash against the book and the author, partially by other authors probably jealous about the attention and acclaim McClourt received for Angela's Ashes.
Ashes ended with McCourt, as a young Irish man, moved to America. There is no way for the stories of his 20s and 30s to compare to the appalling tales he shares of his earlier years.
And this book overall does indeed fall short in comparison. Whereas in Ashes he tells tales of sleeping in mattresses with fleas and ticks, in 'Tis he complains about girlfriends angry at him for getting drunk. Some of the stories in Ashes make readers laugh and cry simultaneously but some of the personal excesses described in 'Tis just aren't too side-splitting.
He also irks this reviewer by using some personal descriptions repeatedly. He describes his diseased eyes as "two piss holes in the snow" on at least five occasions, for example. But there are parts of the book that almost make up for those shortfalls.
Anyone who felt inferior to others while in college will be touched by his memories of those days. He tries to avoid speaking in class because people will laugh at his accent or pay more attention to his Irish brogue than to his words. When a teacher is moved by a story he writes about his poor life in Ireland he worries that everyone will find him depressing.
Ultimately, about half-way through the book, he gets a job as a teacher and has to grapple with the age-old question of how to educate a group of teenagers more interested in having fun than having intellectual discourse. This is where the book truly sings and entertains.
One of the moving parts of Angela's Ashes is that the reader is left feeling like their problems and life's tragedies pale in comparison to McCourt's. The problems described in 'Tis, racism, poverty, an alcoholic father, are less shocking.
It is still an interesting, well-written book but it's less enjoyable and not the excellent work Angela's Ashes was.
Scott Butki covers local government for the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md.
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